May 9, 2024
News Release

Study Shows How Night Shift Work Can Raise Risk of Diabetes, Obesity

The night shift schedule disrupts more than just sleep—important rhythms behind blood glucose regulation and inflammation can get knocked off course, too

A man in a yellow vest and hard hat, working at night, inspects something out of view, his face illuminated by a nearby tablet.

Researchers recently found that processes tied to insulin production and sensitivity were disrupted in night shift workers, among other findings. The results offer new clues as to why night shift workers may face greater risk of developing diabetes and obesity. 

(Image by KANGWANS |

Richland, Wash.—Working the night shift can be taxing on the body. Over the course of just a few days, a night shift schedule can knock the body's biological rhythms off course, disrupting important processes related to blood glucose regulation, energy metabolism and inflammation, according to new work published today in the Journal of Proteome Research. The findings shed new light on the processes behind night shift workers' greater likelihood of developing diabetes, obesity and other metabolic disorders. 

Led by scientists from Washington State University and the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the research demonstrates that such disruptions can crop up in just three days, highlighting both the importance of early intervention and the dangers of going against the body's internal clock.  

“What we showed is that we can really see a difference in molecular patterns between volunteers with normal schedules and those with schedules that are misaligned with their biological clock,” said Jason McDermott, a computational scientist with PNNL’s Biological Sciences Division and coauthor of the new work. “The effects of this misalignment had not yet been characterized at this molecular level and in this controlled manner before.”

The new work builds upon a body of research that explores just how damaging this form of stress may be

“There are processes tied to the master biological clock in our brain that are saying that day is day and night is night and other processes that follow rhythms set elsewhere in the body that say night is day and day is night,” said senior study author Hans Van Dongen, a professor in the Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. “When internal rhythms are dysregulated, you have this enduring stress in your system that we believe has long-term health consequences.”

For more information, please see the WSU news release


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.